Vietnam veteran shares experience with students

Julia Eilert

In order to prepare for Veterans Day, Washburn University invited retired Colonel Leroy Stutz to talk about his experiences with students Nov. 9. 

Stutz was an officer and a pilot in the U.S. Air Force, and was a POW during the Vietnam War for 2284 days, just over six years.

Stutz began his talk by reminding the audience that Veteran’s Day originally came from Armistice Day.

“You might, this coming Saturday, when you see one of those old guys like me, stick your hand out and say ‘Thank you for your service,’” said Stutz.

From there, Stutz explained how he went about making the decision to enter the Air Force, as well as his journey through training at the U.S. Air Force Academy and attending school. He attended Washburn for one year before he received an appointment to the academy and graduating in 1964.

Stutz opened up to the audience about his capture in 1966, and described his thought process as he was floating to the ground after he and his co-pilot, Robert Gregory ejected from their jet over Yên Bái.

“I look up at the ‘chute, and I see there’s little holes appearing,” said Stutz. “And I look down at the ground and there are some guys down there with rifles, and they are shooting at me, and this is not good. Cleverly, I came down right in the middle of a village.”

Stutz selected volunteers from the audience to help him demonstrate how he was brought into camp and interrogated by his captors.

Skimming over his time in captivity, Stutz talked about his countless changes of location while imprisoned, and how he was transported from village to village to be displayed to villagers. He explained that he and other prisoners used a tap code cipher to communicate from different cells. The code is something he was able to teach his wife Karen and he still uses it to this day with her.

“Every camp, every cell that I was ever in, in North Vietnam, they would ring a bell, and that bell meant you were supposed to go to bed,” said Stutz. “Every night, every cell, I heard: ‘Tap, tap tap, tap, tap. Goodnight. God Bless.’”

Many students felt that they could better sympathize with veterans of the Vietnam War after listening to Stutz’s firsthand account.

“I think we should do this more often,” said Alex Grenné, junior elementary education major. “I loved it, honestly. Me volunteering was the best part, and it was great because [I can now relate to Stutz better.]”